The Immigration Project

138 cases of Salvadorans killed since 2013 after deportation from the US.

“Deported To Danger” and the Reality of Deportation Proceedings in the United States

Here at The Immigration Project, we are often asked about the impact and importance of our work, what it is that we do, and why it matters. Some aspects of our work are easier to explain than others, domestic violence is something common in the news and the social imagination, and people generally have a handle on what that means.  Deportation, however, is less frequently experienced – the average American probably doesn’t know someone who has been deported, and so what it really means for people can be much harder to explain, and much harder to understand. A recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), “Deported To Danger: United States Deportation Policies Expose Salvadorans to Death and Abuse,” shines a light on the realities and consequences of deportation for Salvadoran nationals, showing exactly what’s at stake for refugees and asylees to the USA.

Currently, around 1.2 million Salvadoran nationals are living in the United States; according to the HRW report, only about  a quarter of this population are legal permanent residents, or “green card” holders, with the rest finding themselves with precarious temporary legal status or undocumented. Paired with the fact that the fate of the U.S. Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program for El Salvador is increasingly uncertain, this means that Salvadorans are increasingly vulnerable and more at risk for deportation. 

People flee El Salvador in staggering numbers; it is the most violent country in the region with startling rates of murder, gang violence, disappearance, feminicide, sexual violence and state-actor violence. Many people from El Salvador arrive in the U.S. to seek asylum in a legal and desperate attempt to avoid the danger and human rights abuses that are common in El Salvador. Despite the well-documented presence of danger in El Salvador, between 2014 and 2018, over 100,000 Salvadorans were deported from the USA. The push-factors that spur people to leave El Salvador are a real threat to the safety and well being of Salvadoran citizens; “Deported to Danger ” reports that over 100 deported Salvadorans have been murdered following their deportation from the United States. Unfortunately, those murders do not represent the entirety of the problem; Salvadorans face multiple dimensions of violence, and the reality is that the harm that comes to Salvadoran deportees is likely under-reported and underestimated due to myriad influences including state capacity and the role that state-actor violence has to play. 

A key aspect of the report is the claim that the US government knowingly deports individuals to dangerous conditions. This matters because intentionally removing someone to danger is in violation of international laws and norms: there is a substantial body of legislation in international law protecting individuals from removal to dangerous and harmful situations. Article 33 of the Refugee Convention of 1951, Article 3 of the Convention against Torture, Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 22 (8) of the American Convention on Human Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child all either expressly or implicitly deal with preventing the exact kinds of dangers deported Salvadorans face upon removal. Individuals in circumstances where they fear violence and persecution are legally protected from deportation proceedings; according to international standards, individuals in such circumstances should not be deported.

While “Deported to Danger” focuses specifically on the dangers faced by Salvadoran deportees, it is important to know that the physical risks that accompany deportation proceedings are not exclusive to El Salvador.  In many cases, specifically for those seeking asylum, forcible return to an individual’s country of origin can be life threatening. Many people have nowhere to go but to return to abusive and harmful environments, and in some cases, the mere fact of returning from the USA can make people targets for violence and crime, increasing the level of threat they must navigate. As it becomes more and more difficult to receive refugee and asylum status, and as American immigration policy generally becomes more restrictive, the severe harms associated with deporting individuals to dangerous situations will worsen.

Here at The Immigration Project we regularly see cases in which legal aid is the only thing standing between an asylee and emotional, physical, or sexual violence. Returning individuals to their country of origin threatens lives; and as“Deported to Danger” illustrates, current US policy not only ignores these very real risks, it violates international norms and laws in the process.  

TPS is a federal program which allows individuals from certain countries for example those experiencing civil war or other temporary destabilizing circumstances to stay and live in the US without fear of removal.